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Hello and welcome to The Athletic's news blog.

Thursday saw a further four Premier League games set to be played at the weekend postponed following COVID-19 outbreaks. As it stands, Manchester United vs Brighton, Southampton vs Brentford, Watford vs Crystal Palace, West Ham United vs Norwich City and Everton vs Leicester City have all been postponed this weekend.

The Championship has also been affected with five fixtures forced to be rescheduled.

On Thursday evening, Leicester's game against Tottenham was postponed but Liverpool beat Newcastle 3-1 to close the gap on Manchester City to just one point.

Chelsea drew 1-1 with Everton at Stamford Bridge. Romelu Lukaku, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell didn't feature for Thomas Tuchel's side as they have all tested positive for COVID-19. Kai Havertz is awaiting his test results.

Elsewhere, Chelsea crashed out of the Women's Champions League after they lost 4-0 against five-time finalists Wolfsburg.

We will provide you with all the latest football updates throughout the day.

Background reading

(Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
December 17, 2021 at 5:51 PM EST
The French Cup tie between Paris FC and Lyon has been abandoned due to fan violence at Charlety stadium.

The second half of the last 64 game was delayed because of crowd trouble at half-time. Several flares were thrown towards Lyon supporters as fans appeared to be fighting each other.

Fans then descended onto the pitch to move away which prevented the match from restarting.

For more detail, click here.
December 17, 2021 at 3:40 PM EST
Pep Guardiola will be able to take charge of Manchester City's Premier League away game at Newcastle having returned a negative COVID-19 test.

The City manager had to take a PCR test after a lateral flow test showed an inconclusive result when he arrived at the training ground earlier on Friday. He was forced to miss the pre-match press conference as a result.

His most recent COVID-19 result, however, has come back negative, giving him the all clear.

Click here for more detail.
December 17, 2021 at 3:06 PM EST
UEFA is working with the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) on a joint Nations League. It would see countries such as Brazil and Argentina play in the competition.

Both associations have opposed FIFA's plans for a biennial World Cup and this week signed a renewed and extended Memorandum of Understanding to co-operate until June 2028.

The MoU relates to the opening of a shared office between the two associations in London as well as the organisation of football events.

Click here for more detail.
December 17, 2021 at 2:53 PM EST
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has said that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is “not available for selection” against Leeds on Saturday.

Aubameyang was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy this week over a disciplinary breach, which The Athletic understands relates to a late return from a trip abroad.

The striker, 32, did not feature in the club’s last two games against West Ham or Southampton. Arteta has said that a “leadership group” which includes Alexandre Lacazette and Granit Xhaka will replace him as captain.
December 17, 2021 at 2:22 PM EST
Chelsea's Women's Super League game against West Ham on Sunday has been postponed after a number of positive COVID-19 cases within the Chelsea squad.

The decision was agreed between both teams and the Football Association.

A club statement read: "Those affected immediately began a period of self-isolation in accordance with Public Health England and Government guidelines.

"The health and safety of our players, support staff and fans remain paramount. The Women’s squad will now begin their winter break, returning to training in the New Year.

"A revised date for the match will be confirmed in due course. All existing tickets to remain valid. Supporters who have purchased match day tickets can claim a full refund no later than 48 hours prior to the updated fixture date.

"No further Chelsea FC teams have been affected."
December 17, 2021 at 2:17 PM EST
Barnsley co-chairman Paul Conway has highlighted clubs’ willingness to break Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules and the authorities’ failure to punish those culpable as one the biggest challenges he has faced during his time in English football.

Conway is co-founder of the Pacific Media Group (PMG), who in addition to Barnsley have investments in a further five clubs across five different countries: Esbjerg FB in Denmark, AS Nancy in France, KV Oostende in Belgium, FC Thun in Switzerland and FC Den Bosch in the Netherlands.

Conway says that clubs’ ability to abide by laws and the consequences they face for breaking them is laxer in England in comparison to the other countries in which PMG work.

To listen to the full podcast episode, click here.
December 17, 2021 at 1:35 PM EST
Chelsea have suffered no further positive COVID-19 tests while Kai Havertz has returned to training after multiple negative tests.

Thomas Tuchel was without four players as Chelsea drew with Everton on Thursday night due to positive COVID-19 tests, while Havertz was unwell and missed the game. Romelu Lukaku, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner and the injured Ben Chilwell all tested positive.

However, there have been no further players missing out due to positive tests after another round of testing on Friday ahead of Sunday's game against Wolves.

For more detail, click here.
December 17, 2021 at 1:14 PM EST
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is training by himself — away from the first-team at Arsenal — after being excluded from selection by Mikel Arteta.

Arteta has left Aubameyang out of his last two squads following his late return from a trip abroad, and the Spaniard confirmed he would not be in contention to play Leeds on Saturday.

Aubameyang was stripped of his captaincy earlier this week and was initially told to train at home.

However, he is now believed to have been back training by himself at the club's London Colney base in recent days.

This course of action is understood to be at the club's behest rather than that of Aubameyang.

For more detail, click here.
December 17, 2021 at 12:57 PM EST
Johnnie Jackson has been appointed as the permanent manager of Charlton Athletic.

His deal at the League One club will automatically renew at the end of each of the next two seasons based on on-pitch results.

Speaking to The Athletic’s Totally Football League Show on Thursday, Jackson had revealed his “positive” discussions over becoming permanent manager.

For the full episode of the podcast, click here.
December 17, 2021 at 12:36 PM EST
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has written to all top-flight clubs stressing the importance of vaccinations for footballers and the need to finish the season.

The omicron variant has significantly impacted the Premier League, with a number of games in mid-week being postponed. There have already been five postponements ahead of the weekend, with Watford vs Crystal Palace, Southampton vs Brentford, West Ham vs Norwich, Manchester United vs Brighton and Everton vs Leicester all called off.

Masters’ letter stresses the need for players to be inoculated against COVID-19. He writes: “We have collectively highlighted the importance of vaccination and it has never been more important.

“This is not only for the obvious benefit of protecting against COVID, but government guidance now dictates that unvaccinated close contacts of positive COVID cases must isolate for 10 days, and there is no exemption or exception to this.

“Please strongly encourage those who are not fully vaccinated to become so, and the many who are, to get their booster, which appears to be the only significant layer of protection against the Omicron variant.”

Click here for more information.
December 17, 2021 at 12:35 PM EST
Of course, we're referring to footballing matters, rather than existential or philosophical sense.

Despite the poor start to the season, optimism seems to remain at Elland Road.

Click below for more detail.
GO FURTHER
Leeds United survey: Confidence in survival, faith in Bielsa but desire to see January spending
▫️ 70% confident that #LUFC will stay up
▫️ 66% haven't lost faith in Bielsa this season
▫️ 84% want to see signings
in January

This is The Athletic's Leeds United fan survey

📝 @PhilHay_
December 17, 2021 at 11:03 AM EST
Arsenal are exploring January loan options for Omar Rekik as they look to aid his development with first-team action.

Rekik, a Tunisia international, turns 20 this month and is in line to make his first-team debut in Arsenal’s Carabao Cup quarter-final against Sunderland.

But The Athletic understands the club feel Rekik needs regular first-team exposure and minutes to aid his development.

For more details, click here.
December 17, 2021 at 11:01 AM EST
They drew 1-1 against Everton reserves last night. Simon Johnson is looking towards the sharp end of the pitch for an answer.
Thomas Tuchel should be a worried man – by the time Romelu Lukaku is at his best for #CFC, it could be too late to rescue their title hopes. My column here: https://t.co/HhX1C37ZnI
December 17, 2021 at 9:36 AM EST
Inter Milan have reached an agreement with Christian Eriksen to terminate his contract.

Eriksen has not played since collapsing after suffering cardiac arrest during a game for Denmark at Euro 2020. He has since been fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.

Players are not allowed to play in Serie A with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.

Inter have now released a statement, confirming Eriksen's exit: "FC Internazionale Milano can confirm that an agreement has been reached to terminate Christian Eriksen's contract by mutual consent.

"The club and the entire Nerazzurri family wish Christian all the very best for his future.

"Although Inter and Christian are now parting ways, the bond shall never be broken. The good times, the goals, the victories, those Scudetto celebrations with fans outside San Siro – all this will remain forever in Nerazzurri history."

(Photo: Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)
December 17, 2021 at 9:31 AM EST
I sang this to the tune of Michael Jackson. Speaking of the 80s, The Athletic sent writers to investigate a very different era of goalkeeping to the raking long passers of today's Premier League. This is what they returned with.
Did you see this superb @bryansgunn video of "80s goalkeepers just launching it"? https://t.co/moVvsj8utd

Well, we spoke to a few of them – @gary_bailey1 @MrGunny1963 Graham Moseley, Alan Judge – about the art (& unquestioned 80s culture) of the big boot https://t.co/UUetHR6XND
December 17, 2021 at 9:12 AM EST
Remarkable to see how they'll get these rescheduled.
Of the 34 EFL games scheduled for tomorrow, 19 now called off due to Covid. Pools panel will be busy.
December 17, 2021 at 9:11 AM EST
But not hard enough to dissuade Mike Dean from crossing its path, it seems.

James Pearce saw TAA as the star man at Anfield last night.
Trent AA has already equalled his tally of PL goals and assists for last season. He’s only 23 but on the brink of 200 #LFC appearances. He’s a future captain.
2021 hasn’t been a vintage year for him but he will enter 2022 back to his dazzling best. https://t.co/rnYvZhWwx9
December 17, 2021 at 8:14 AM EST
It was an ugly 4-0 defeat for Chelsea last night, and Charlotte Harpur has the full story.

Emma Hayes blamed the defeat on anxiety surrounding COVID-19, saying: "The stress, the anxiety, the worry of having to perform in a game when you're thinking, 'I just want to go home. I haven't seen my family'. I'm not making excuses for the players. We do not get paid millions of pounds – I want my players to go and see their families. Unfortunately, we couldn’t separate that anxiety from the performance.

"I didn’t recognise my players tonight. I’ve never seen a performance like that from them. Stress and anxiety is real and while I wish they could have separated it to perform, we were nowhere near it to be in a position to win."

(Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
December 17, 2021 at 7:41 AM EST
And on the topic of Everton…

Jarrad Branthwaite signed a new deal earlier this week and then scored his first Premier League goal to earn a point at Chelsea.

He was part of a youthful core that stood tall at Stamford Bridge and gives hope for a brighter future.

Paddy Boyland was our Everton man at Stamford Bridge last night (and was also close to making the bench!)
GO FURTHER
New deal and first Premier League goal for Branthwaite: a night Everton’s young core stood tall
December 17, 2021 at 7:19 AM EST
Everton have reached an agreement in principle to sign Dynamo Kyiv’s Vitaliy Mykolenko for €20 million.

Mykolenko, 22, flew into Liverpool this morning. The deal would go through on January 1, when the window reopens.

Everton are short on options at left-back. The move for Mykolenko comes after a disagreement between usual first choice Lucas Digne and Rafa Benitez which saw the former miss games against Arsenal and Crystal Palace.

Digne also missed the 1-1 draw against Chelsea on Wednesday.

More from David Ornstein and Greg O'Keeffe here.

(Photo: Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

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